Market Research Heroes: Annie Pettit

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In this new release, we’ve had the opportunity to talk with Annie Pettit, a person who can teach us a lot about market and social research, either through her conferences or her several articles.

Annie is PhD in psychology and Chief Research Office at Peanut Labs. She is also Vice President of Research Standards at Research Now. She specializes in data quality, sampling and survey design, and social listening.

She won the MRIA Award of Outstanding Merit in 2014, the  Best Methodological Paper at Esomar in 2013, and the 2011 AMA David K. Hardin Award. Annie tweets at @LoveStats and is the author of The Listen Lady, a novel about social media research.


Let’s get started… Annie, what did you want to be when you were growing up?

First a veterinarian but I quickly realized I was kind of scared of animals. Then an archeologist, and then a psychometrist. I have no idea how I discovered that career!


When did you start your professional career as a researcher? And what was the beginning like?

If we’re talking strictly research, I’ll have to include graduate school when I researched the generalizability of results from college students, as well as the data quality of online survey data.

In my first real job after school, I was essentially a psychometrist with the Ontario government. I used a few standard statistics to develop personality tests. I really liked the work but, along the way, I realized that there was a career called marketing research where people get to use all kinds of statistics to accomplish all kinds of goals, not just a few for one goal.

Once I realized I’d have many more options in the MR world, I immediately sought out a new job. I remember being surprised at all the things I did NOT know about research in the business world even though I had taken so many classes in statistics, research methods, and survey design. They don’t teach you box scores in university!


Who was/is your hero in the market research world?

There are lots of people from marketing research doing some really great things. I love that Kristin Luck is on a campaign for full representivity of men and women at conferences and at senior levels.

I love that Tom Ewing and Reg Baker point out the obvious even though something is only obvious because they pointed it out first and even when the idea is controversial and upsets the purists.


If you had to name one attribute every social researcher should have, which would it be?

"Social" implies an understanding of people, of how people think and feel, why people think and feel, and how people often don’t know how they think and feel. So I’m going to make a grand assumption that we’re all good there. In that case, every social researcher needs to be comfortable with numbers.

I’ve heard too many people happily confess that they aren’t good with numbers and too many presenters apologize for not understanding the numbers on their slides. We can’t do our jobs well if we don’t have a feel for numbers and how they can do us right and wrong.

That means we  need to understand ideas of randomness, margin of error, and confidence intervals. We need to understand that just as people’s opinions aren’t written in stone, neither are the numbers we create during the research process.


How do you get inspired to create? What field, besides market research, inspires you the most?

Without other people, I’m not very creative. When people share their ideas on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or at conferences, it makes me think of additional ideas. Or, I’ll disagree so completely with an idea that crosses my path that I’ll have to share what I think is a better idea. It’s all a matter of opinion.

It seems like every blog post I write is inspired by a conversation with someone (you know who you are!)

Outside of marketing research, I get a lot of inspiration from books, in particular biographies and documentaries. So many people have done so many incredible things. The creativity and strength they have shown reminds me that I need to just get out there and DO.


What would you say is the most interesting research project you have carried out?

I work behind the scenes as opposed to directly with clients so most of my work is research on research. Which I love.

The most interesting project I’ve worked on has to be the development of a global panel data quality system that incorporated numerous mid-survey data quality techniques as well as long-term individual tracking components.

It really helped me to understand that real people aren’t perfect. Everyone makes mistakes on surveys now and then. You hit the wrong key, you mis-interpret a poorly worded question. People can’t be penalized for being human. On the other hand, there are always a few people who aren’t truly invested in the survey process and those kinds of people don’t need to be a part of the process.

How would you describe the current situation of our industry?

I’d describe it as "wishfully thinking forward but comfortably seated in the past".

There are indeed a number of companies trying hard to be progressive. They are actively working on mobile solutions, neuroscience techniques, and more, and doing everything they can to convince clients to come along with them.

Lots of folks are encouraged by all the new techniques available to them but they are still very happy with the surveys and focus groups they’ve been doing all along. They already know the pros and cons of those techniques, they already have all their templates and processes in place.

It’s just a ton of work to do something different. I think we’re really good at wanting to do new cool things but those new cool things are really a very small part of our work.


What do you think market research will be like in 10 years time? What challenges do you think we will face?

Ah, to dream! I would love to say that surveys will be short and well-written, and that responder engagement will be higher than ever. I think we will be closer to that but not by much. We’ll still be fighting the cost of business which means little time to write the best survey ever and little money to support that endeavor.

However, I do think we’ll have made some great strides in terms of truly understanding engagement. It’s only been in the last couple of years that we’ve really focused on the person participating in the research as opposed to the techniques of research. As we focus more on people, and see the benefits of focusing on people, not data, our research data will get better.

I really hope that in ten years time neuroscience as applied to marketing research will be much more in play than today. We like to think that people understand themselves but we really don’t. On the surface, we know we like this or that, but we don’t know why. We don’t know why our hand grabbed at a certain shape, size, or colour. We just know that we love or hate something and then researchers make us try to come up with reasons when we’ve never really considered the reasons to begin with. Neuroscience will get us a lot closer to reality.


Which film or which book do you recommend to researchers?

I’m going to extrapolate a bit and recommend a TV show. Anyone who knows me knows I always watch American Idol.  And, I always keep a score card from week to week rating every singer with A, B, C, D, or F. Yes, Yes, I’m a data geek.

The interesting thing is that it really reminds me of the difficult task we ask of our survey responders. Was the singer I rated with a B last week just as good as the singer I rated with a B this week? And what was it about the singer that I rated A four times in a row that got them kicked off this week - a personality characteristic, their clothes, their song choice, their hair?

It’s a great way to remember just how random and forgetful people are when they’re judging things whether it’s people or products.


And at last, your life motto in 1 tweet =)

When someone says you can’t do something, that’s your cue to do it. #InspirationalQuote @LoveStats


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